Rough Edges, Loud Ticking, Murky Engravings, and Other Indicators of a Fake Watch

Before you let yourself get fooled, it pays to do your due diligence and look out for the telltale signs of a fake. Here are just a few of the dead giveaways.

It used to be that a fake watch was easy to spot. Shoddy workmanship, obvious misspellings on the dial, and a general sense of sloppy finishing and subpar quality were all giveaways that you were not getting the real deal. But with the advent of 3D printing, the proliferation of hyper-realistic super fakes, and the counterfeiting industry just getting better and better, identifying a fake is now not as easy as it once was.  

Maybe you’re just trying to get a quick and easy deal from an online seller. Maybe you want the look and feel, as well as the envious, admiring glances that come with owning a luxury watch, but you don’t have the budget for it just yet (we’ll try not to judge)—in which case, you probably don’t care too much about the provenance of your timepiece in the first place and are willing to be blindly fooled.  

The most painful circumstance of all, though, is putting down a substantial amount of money on a watch that you think is the real thing, only to learn later on that you have been taken for a ride. These are the kinds of situations this guide is for.  

If you are willing to spend serious coin in the first place, naturally, you want to know that you're getting what you paid for. Here are some rules of thumb to ensure you won’t be fooled.    

Photo by UNSPLASH.

1| Do your research. 

If you already have a clear idea of the specific watch you have in mind, as you would with any high-ticket purchase, it pays to do your homework.  

Visit the official website and get well-acquainted with the model you are eyeing, look at photos of the watch from every available angle, and acquire a watchful eye for the finer details. Go to the store or dealer and examine the watch in person, handling it so you can get an idea of how much it should weigh and its heft against your wrist. Try on the watch of a friend and get his thoughts on the model and what makes the purchase worthwhile. 

Just like buying a car or a pair of kicks, put in the due diligence first. Get an idea of how much the piece usually goes for from the official retailer or sales records on the auction block so you can compare what is a fair versus a frankly ridiculous amount to pay. This is the fun part, anyway, so go ahead and geek out.  

2| Get to know the seller.  

The best way to avoid being duped is to go to an official retailer, a trusted dealer, or a reseller with a solid reputation and build a relationship. You can find a list of authorized dealers on the brand’s website, or you can go to a trusted online watch retailer, knowing they have done the work for you and give you an authenticity guarantee.  

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The price is most likely higher at a trusted source than what you might find at your average online marketplace, but better to pay for the real deal than make an expensive mistake. If the price is a fraction of what you know it really costs or if someone is attempting to rush-sell what they claim is a gift or a family heirloom, proceed at your own risk.  

Photo by UNSPLASH.

3| Look out for the signs.     

There are a few hallmarks of a fake watch that you might be able to spot upon taking a closer look at the piece or examining its photo.

When purchasing a mechanical watch, hold it up to your ear and listen for a loud ticking noise. All of those tiny moving parts are designed to be continuous and smooth, unlike the once-per-second ticks that accompany a quartz. Observe also if the second hand sweeps around the numerals or if it pauses abruptly with each tick. If what you want is a mechanical watch, but you are being sold a quartz, keep your money and run.     


Pay attention, as well, to how heavy it is and how substantial it feels. Whether a watch is gold, titanium, or stainless steel, it bears a certain weight over the flimsy, lighter materials of a fake. Genuine craftsmanship is also difficult to replicate; examine the case and bracelet’s edges to see if they are rough or sharp. If there are noticeable irregularities, chances are the watch is not finished by hand.  

Don’t be afraid to bring out a magnifying glass to get a closer look and compare it to photos of the real deal—if the letters look off, the logo is not aligned, there are any misspellings, or there are unnecessary pusher buttons on a watch that is not a chronograph, walk away. Luxury watches are priced that way because no expense has been spared in perfecting every inch and detail, so there should never be any such thing as manufacturer errors or one-off mistakes.  

Take a look at the quality of the serial numbers’ engraving: It should be clear, fine, and easily legible, without any murkiness, blurring, or a dotted, sandy finish.

If possible, it is also best to pop open the case back using the necessary tools and take a look at the movement. If you are expecting an in-house or ETA movement but see something else, if there are any signs of rusting or peeling, or if there are no brand name or logo engravings where they should be, move on.     

4| Get it appraised. 

Given the chance, it is ideal to have the watch examined by an appraiser before making any purchase. Better still if it comes with the necessary paperwork and documentation, such as a certificate of authenticity, the original box with a matching serial number, and so on.  


Experts on certain brands will tell you what to look for in the real thing: A modern Rolex should have a tiny crown micro-etched on the crystal at the 6 o’clock mark; a real Omega logo is a separate piece of metal attached to the dial and never painted on; an authentic Cartier should have a gemstone set (not glued) into the crown. 

These are just some of the indicators to look out for to make sure you don’t get fooled by a fake watch, but in the end, trust your gut. As with many things in life, if a deal sounds way too good to be true, it probably is.    

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Nana Caragay
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